A person-centred analysis of teacher-child relationships in early childhood.


Background: Previously, the nature of teacher-child relationships (TCRs) has been explored through dimensions of close, conflicted, and dependent. However, this variable-centred approach is limited, as many relationships can be characterized by more than one characteristic or trait. A person-centred approach would allow for a greater understanding of the types of relationships that are formed and improved interpretation of the students’ socio-emotional outcomes associated with that relationship. Aims: The primary goal of this study was to examine the socio-emotional functioning of young children who formed distinct types of TCRs. Sample: Participants were n = 202 kindergarten children (98 girls, 104 boys, Mage = 64.12 months, SD = 4.86). Method: Multi-source assessment was employed with data collected from parent ratings, teacher reports, child interviews, and naturalistic observations in the classroom. Using quartile cut-offs, we identified children who formed conflicted, dependent, and ‘combined’ (conflicted and dependent) TCRs. Results: Results indicated distinct patterns of socio-emotional functioning for each TCR group. For example, whereas children in conflicted TCRs evidenced greater externalizing difficulties, children with dependent TCRs had greater internalizing difficulties. Children who evidenced high levels of both conflicted and dependent TCRs displayed the most pervasive socio-emotional difficulties. Conclusions: Children who form TCRs characterized by high levels of both conflict and dependency displayed the most pervasive adjustment difficulties. Further investigation is needed to improve our understanding of this group and to assess the plausibility of early intervention strategies.